University of Valencia (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2013 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Pages: 109-117
ISBN: 978-84-616-2661-8
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 7th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 4-5 March, 2013
Location: Valencia, Spain
The Spanish law that defines the basic competences for all university degrees stipulates that “students should have the ability to gather and interpret relevant data (usually within their study area) to make judgments about topics of social, scientific and ethical significance”. With regard to ethical issues in the degree of biology, this competence is usually dealt with, if at all, using two approaches. First, it is treated as a transversal competence to be promoted by different disciplines throughout the degree. A potential problem with this approach is that the competence often remains unarticulated and cannot be evaluated. Second, this competence is developed by specific disciplines using selected ‘hot’ topics in which contrasting values are at stake (e.g., genetically modified food, conservation of biodiversity, animal welfare). This second approach allows students to gather a great deal of relevant data and to identify opposing views and evaluation of learning results is made possible. However, in our opinion, both approaches may fail to develop a formal training in recognizing values and categorizing them without prejudging their content. This meta-cognitive activity is at the very core of any fair judgment of stakeholders and it is a pre-requisite to frame the debate avoiding the naturalistic fallacy. In this presentation we describe how such taxonomy of value dimensions can be applied to two current debates in our field of expertise, i.e., the conservation of animal diversity and the scientific and social role of captive animals. In our proposal, students have to perform specific activities in which, rather than merely evaluating the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of particular views, they classify contrasting opinions in each debate according to formal criteria (e.g., the value of ecosystem function vs. biodiversity preservation; the instrumental, eudaemonic or moral dimensions of value; or the population-based vs. individual-based thought that frames debates about captive animals). This meta-cognitive process (i) makes students aware of the type of values behind contrasting views; (ii) sheds much light about the science and values that support policy decisions (e.g., allocation of resources for conservation) and (iii) allows a fair judgment of the moral and scientific basis of different options. Although the prevailing view of the university’s mission focuses on promoting employability, we should not forget that critical thinking (including ethical reasoning) is also a venerable mission that should be promoted in all degrees.